- science (n.)
- mid-14c., "what is known, knowledge (of something) acquired by study; information;" also "assurance of knowledge, certitude, certainty," from Old French science "knowledge, learning, application; corpus of human knowledge" (12c.), from Latin scientia "knowledge, a knowing; expertness," from sciens (genitive scientis) "intelligent, skilled," present participle of scire "to know," probably originally "to separate one thing from another, to distinguish," related to scindere "to cut, divide," from PIE root *skei- "to cut, to split" (cognates: Greek skhizein "to split, rend, cleave," Gothic skaidan, Old English sceadan "to divide, separate;" see shed (v.)).
From late 14c. in English as "book-learning," also "a particular branch of knowledge or of learning;" also "skillfulness, cleverness; craftiness." From c.1400 as "experiential knowledge;" also "a skill, handicraft; a trade." From late 14c. as "collective human knowledge" (especially "that gained by systematic observation, experiment, and reasoning). Modern (restricted) sense of "body of regular or methodical observations or propositions concerning a particular subject or speculation" is attested from 1725; in 17c.-18c. this concept commonly was called philosophy. Sense of "non-arts studies" is attested from 1670s.
Science, since people must do it, is a socially embedded activity. It progresses by hunch, vision, and intuition. Much of its change through time does not record a closer approach to absolute truth, but the alteration of cultural contexts that influence it so strongly. Facts are not pure and unsullied bits of information; culture also influences what we see and how we see it. Theories, moreover, are not inexorable inductions from facts. The most creative theories are often imaginative visions imposed upon facts; the source of imagination is also strongly cultural. [Stephen Jay Gould, introduction to "The Mismeasure of Man," 1981]
The distinction is commonly understood as between theoretical truth (Greek episteme) and methods for effecting practical results (tekhne), but science sometimes is used for practical applications and art for applications of skill. To blind (someone) with science "confuse by the use of big words or complex explanations" is attested from 1937, originally noted as a phrase from Australia and New Zealand.
In science you must not talk before you know. In art you must not talk before you do. In literature you must not talk before you think. [John Ruskin, "The Eagle's Nest," 1872]